Dan Mullen found his first staff replacement of the winter 2020-21 cycle by hiring former Auburn defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff. Here is a quick summary of what he’s getting with the latest addition to the staff.
McGriff has 31 years of coaching under his belt, the last 20 of them either in power FBS conferences or the NFL. A native of Georgia, he worked at lower-division colleges in either his home state or Kentucky for the first 11 years of his career.
He got his SEC break moving from EKU to Kentucky for the 2001 season. After two seasons working for Guy Morriss there, he followed Morriss to Baylor for four years in Waco. He moved on to join Randy Shannon’s inaugural 2007 staff at Miami (FL) and remained for all four years of Shannon’s tenure. He then found his way to Vanderbilt for James Franklin’s first staff for a season in 2011. He was a running backs coach in his first year at UK but was a DBs coach thereafter. At Baylor and Vandy he had the recruiting coordinator title as well.
McGriff moved to Ole Miss in 2012 and picked up a co-defensive coordinator title in the process, but he left and coached DBs for the New Orleans Saints from 2013-15. He came back to college for a year at Auburn in 2016 before going back to Oxford for the full-on defensive coordinator job from 2017-18.
His tenure as DC in Oxford did not go well. The Rebel defense began to slide late in Hugh Freeze’s tenure as the recruiting on that side of the ball fell off precipitously after McGriff left the first time. McGriff took the coordinator job for the 2017 season before Freeze was fired, and while there wasn’t a lot to work with, he didn’t really elevate material either. The two defenses he coached were bad, and Matt Luke let him go in a “fire the coordinators to get one more year” situation.
He went back to Auburn as DBs coach for 2019-20. The firing of Gus Malzahn and staff last month put McGriff back on the job market.
Having been around a while, McGriff has coached in a lot of different schemes. At Kentucky and Baylor, he worked under coordinator John Goodner. Goodner ran what one season preview described as “an unusual defensive scheme” that turns out to be a 4-2-5 nickel base defense that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s game. Gary Patterson made his career off of a 4-2-5, although he never worked on the same staff with Goodner. Bill Bradley (no, not that one) replaced Goodner at Baylor and continued the 4-2-5.
McGriff worked for Rob Ryan while at the Saints, and he runs a 3-4 that he says is multiple. Like Goodner did, Ryan experimented with three-safety packages after a rash of linebacker injuries in 2014 with McGriff on the staff.
While working for Shannon at Miami and Bob Shoop at Vandy, and with Dave Wommack as co-DC at Ole Miss, McGriff operated in 4-3 sets. When he ran the Rebel defense following Wommack’s retirement, he went with a 4-3 in 2017 before switching to a 4-2-5 nickel base with a star position in 2018.
The most similar scheme to Todd Grantham’s that McGriff has been around is Kevin Steele’s at Auburn. Both Steele and Grantham have strong Nick Saban influences, though the former spent time working with the Nicktator more recently at Alabama than the latter’s three years at Michigan State in the ’90s. Both run nominal 3-3-5 schemes with a Buck rush edge and a star/nickel corner. Steele was the DC on the Plains for both of McGriff’s tenures there.
A video Ole Miss posted in July of 2017 shows McGriff saying that the two things he wants his defenses to be most are aggressive and disciplined.
What McGriff means to Florida
McGriff has coached a lot of players who were terrific in college and moved up to the pro level. His bios from Auburn and Ole Miss are like any other coaching bios and give him credit for developing every notable player who ever shared a 20-mile radius with him, so it’s hard to tell how much credit to give to him exactly. His history of short tenures in jobs also makes evaluating him as a developer difficult, but he did coach a lot of good DBs in his four-year stint at Miami.
What’s not in doubt is that his players love him. For instance, Auburn players were talking about wanting to win their bowl game following the 2016 season to send him off to his new Ole Miss DC job with a win.
McGriff has a reputation as being a great recruiter as well. You don’t get multiple recruiting coordinator jobs as McGriff did if you’re not good at it.
The top six recruits he’s listed on in 247 Sports’s history all date back to his time at Miami or his first Ole Miss tenure. He does have some 4-stars to his name from his most recent time at Auburn, including some from the state of Florida. Between his time at Miami and recruiting the state for Malzahn, McGriff is an established presence on the Florida recruiting scene.
McGriff appears to be someone who is good enough as an on-field coach to keep getting major jobs while being a real positive for team chemistry and an asset on the recruiting trail. He hasn’t worked with Mullen or Grantham before, but McGriff is no stranger to the SEC and would be well known to a pair of guys who worked at Mississippi State. He looks to be at least a solid addition to the staff, and he has plenty of young talent to work with heading into next year.